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Rescue Plan Will Help Millions Who Still Face Reduced Access to Medical Care

In large measure due to COVID-19, millions of people continue to forgo or delay needed health care. Those affected are disproportionately households with low income and households suffering pandemic-driven job losses, and their reduced care will have negative repercussions for their health and well-being. The American Rescue Plan Act brings much-needed relief by providing income support, investing in mental health, and making health care more affordable.

Due to the pandemic, during the last four weeks 27 percent of adults delayed medical care and 20 percent of adults did not get the medical care they needed for something other than COVID-19, according to data that the Census Bureau collected between March 3 and 15.

Moreover, those hardest hit by the deep economic downturn are the likeliest to suffer from reduced access to care:

  • Adults whose households lost employment income since March 13, 2020 are 79 percent likelier to have forgone medical care in the last four weeks than those whose households didn’t lose employment income.
  • Adults in households earning $25,000 or less in income are more than twice as likely to have forgone needed medical care in the last four weeks than households making $200,000 or more.
  • Adults who didn’t get needed medical care in the last four weeks due to the pandemic are more than twice as likely to say their households didn’t get enough to eat in the last week.

Mental health has been a particular concern. Not only are more people suffering from mental distress, but many simultaneously can’t access the mental health care they need due to the pandemic. Some 20 percent of adults reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge nearly every day of the past week, according to our analysis of detailed data from February 17 through March 1. Of those, 33 percent reported that they needed counseling or therapy in the last four weeks but did not get it.

The health care access problems cited above are consistent with surveys from earlier periods in the pandemic, several of which also tracked the negative impacts of reduced access. In an Urban Institute survey of data collected in September 2020, a third of adults who reported delaying or forgoing care said that their health conditions worsened, or their ability to work or perform other daily activities was limited, as a result. Over a quarter of adults whose children delayed or went without care reported that their children experienced worse health conditions and limits in their ability to go to school or daycare, do schoolwork, or perform other daily activities.

The Rescue Plan will alleviate the health care access problems that millions continue to experience in the midst of the pandemic. It expands health insurance coverage and makes it more affordable by reducing or eliminating insurance premiums for plans in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces, and it incentivizes states that have not yet adopted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion to do so. It invests in community mental and behavioral health services for adults and children, including support for mobile crisis intervention services. Finally, it helps tens of millions of people through expanded unemployment benefits, more food and housing assistance, tax credit expansions, emergency funds, and other provisions. Together, these provisions will alleviate hardship and provide support so that more people can access the health care they need.

Gideon Lukens
Asociado Principal y Director de Investigación y Análisis de Datos